Divorce is a complex process that can be emotionally draining and legally challenging. In Maryland, specific laws and procedures must be followed for a divorce to be granted. Understanding these prerequisites and the process as a whole is crucial in navigating this life-altering event. Here are some key points to consider when getting a divorce in Maryland.
- Does Maryland have common-law marriage?
- How does legal separation work in Maryland?
- How much does a divorce cost in Maryland?
Two Types of Divorce in Maryland
In Maryland, marriage is considered a civil contract between two individuals. A divorce, therefore, signifies the legal termination of this contract, enacted by a court order. Maryland has two kinds of divorce: ‘absolute divorce’ and ‘limited divorce.’
An absolute divorce marks the definitive end of the marriage. Upon granting an absolute divorce, the court issues a ‘divorce decree’ or simply ‘decree,’ which serves as the final divorce order. Conversely, a limited divorce equals a legal separation without legally terminating the marriage. A limited divorce resolves some issues (child custody, property, etc.) but does not actually dissolve the marriage.
Grounds for Divorce
The spouse who is seeking the divorce (i.e., the “plaintiff” or spouse who files the divorce papers) must prove one of the recognized grounds for divorce in Maryland. First, it’s essential to understand the grounds for divorce. The grounds for obtaining a divorce in Maryland are as follows:
- No-Fault / Separation (living apart with no sexual contact for 12 consecutive months)
- Legal Insanity
Mutual Consent Divorce
Maryland law now allows couples to obtain an absolute divorce based on mutual consent when certain terms are agreed to. Basically, a mutual consent divorce is possible if both spouses are willing to agree on all the terms of the divorce. That includes child custody, the division of marital property, child support, etc.
If the spouses are on the same page and agree on how all these issues should be resolved, they can petition the court for a mutual consent divorce and obtain it relatively quickly. The problem with this is very few couples are able or willing to voluntarily agree on all of the relevant issues in a divorce. There is almost always some disagreement over custody of the children, who gets the house, and most frequently, the value of the marital property.
Before filing for divorce, you must meet Maryland’s residency requirements. If the grounds for the divorce occurred outside of Maryland, then at least one spouse must have resided in the state for at least six months before filing. If the grounds for divorce took place within Maryland, however, the plaintiff just needs to be a state resident at the time of filing for the divorce.
Filing for Divorce
The divorce process begins when one spouse (the plaintiff) files a Complaint for Absolute Divorce in the county’s circuit court where either spouse resides. The Maryland judiciary has a fill-in form for a Complaint for Absolute Divorce (CC-DR-021) that should be used if you are filing without a lawyer. The complaint outlines the grounds for divorce and any additional claims, such as child custody, child support, alimony, or property division.
In addition to the divorce complaint, plaintiffs might also need to file other forms such as a Civil Domestic Information Report (CC-DCM-001), Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property (CC-DR-033), a settlement agreement, and fee waiver forms.
The other spouse (the defendant) is then served with the divorce papers and has a specified period (usually 30 days) to file an answer. If the defendant does not respond within the given timeframe, the court may grant a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
Maryland is an equitable distribution state, meaning the marital property is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, in a divorce. So this principle doesn’t necessarily imply a 50/50 split of all assets but instead seeks to achieve a fair division.
People get very caught up in whose name is on what title. But marital property includes ALL assets and debts acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. Section 8-201(e) of the Maryland Family Law Article clarifies that “marital property” refers to any property, irrespective of its title, that either or both parties obtain during the marriage.
But the definition of marital property does not encompass property attained before the marriage, property received through inheritance or third-party gifts, property explicitly excluded by a legitimate agreement or property that can be directly linked to any of these sources. So assets brought into the marriage by one spouse, notably those not actively incorporated into the marital lifestyle, might be excluded from the property division process. For example, an inherited house in a different state that wasn’t used for shared purposes, such as family vacations, and that the other spouse has never even visited could be considered separate and thus not included in the marital assets for division.
Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony, also known as spousal support, is not guaranteed in Maryland divorces. The court may award alimony to either spouse based on factors like each spouse’s ability to be self-supporting, the duration of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, the financial needs and resources of each party, and any agreements between the spouses.
There are 3 different types of alimony that can be awarded in Maryland: pendente lite alimony, statutory alimony, and indefinite alimony.
Pendente lite alimony (“during the suit” alimony) is alimony that the court can award up-front to continue while the divorce case is pending. The purpose is to maintain a financial status quo between the parties. At the end of the divorce case, the court can either award statutory alimony or indefinite alimony. Statutory alimony is often called temporary or rehabilitative alimony, because it is designed to help one spouse until they can become financially self-supportive. In contrast, indefinite alimony is awarded when a spouse cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting.
In Maryland, legal and physical custody can be shared or awarded solely to one parent. Legal custody involves decision-making rights about the child’s upbringing, while physical custody refers to where the child resides.
Legal custody refers to the authority to make important life choices on behalf of the minor child. These decisions may include education, significant medical procedures, and religious upbringing. Legal custody can be joint, where both parents share the decision-making rights, or sole, where only one parent has the decision-making authority. Joint legal custody is typically granted when both parents demonstrate a willingness and ability to communicate effectively about their child’s needs and decisions. Conversely, sole legal custody is assigned to one parent who becomes the child’s sole decision-maker.
Physical custody pertains to the actual living arrangements of the child. This can either be shared physical custody, where both parents have the child for at least 128 overnight visits (which equates to approximately 35% of the year), or sole physical custody, where one parent has the child the majority of the time with the other parent granted visitation rights. The parent without physical custody, often called the “non-custodial” parent, only exercises physical custody during designated visitation periods.
Shared physical custody requires both parents to contribute to the child’s expenses and any child support awarded. However, in sole physical custody situations, the non-custodial parent typically pays child support to the parent with custody to assist with child-related expenses.
The court determines custody based on the child’s best interest, considering factors such as each parent’s fitness, character, and reputation, the child’s preference, any existing agreements between the parents, and the potential for maintaining family relationships.
Child support is calculated using a formula that factors in each parent’s income, the number of children, and the cost of health insurance and work-related childcare. The noncustodial parent typically pays child support to the custodial parent to assist with the child’s living expenses.
In Maryland, child support guidelines provide clear instructions for the courts to calculate appropriate child support amounts. The guidelines apply to families with a combined income of less than $180,000. For wealthier families, the child support calculation in Maryland becomes more complex.
But the guidelines still consider various factors, such as each parent’s income, the number of children involved, and the amount of time each parent spends with the children. The child support orders may also specify the division of payment for additional expenses like extracurricular activities, school fees, childcare costs, health insurance, and other medical bills.
All of this in Maryland is calculated using a standardized formula to determine the amount of child support. While parents are permitted to agree on a child support amount independently, the court must approve this agreed-upon sum to incorporate it into a court order. Notably, child support cannot be waived outright by either parent. The court retains the authority to mandate child support payments from one parent to another. When parents cannot agree on a child support amount, the judge will determine the appropriate amount based on the guideline calculations.
The child support guidelines include:
- Parental income
- The number of shared children
- The amount of time each parent spends with the child or children
- Support for children from other relationships
- Health insurance costs for the child or children
- Work-related childcare and uninsured healthcare expenses.
Mediation and Collaborative Divorce
Not all divorces have to end up in a courtroom. Alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation and collaborative divorce can effectively resolve issues amicably and cost-effectively.
Mediation involves a neutral third-party mediator who helps the spouses negotiate and reach agreements on their disputes. This method promotes open communication and allows the parties to control the outcome of their divorce.
In a collaborative divorce, each spouse has their own attorney, and all parties agree to work cooperatively, non-adversarial, to reach a settlement. Financial advisors, child specialists, and other professionals may also be part of the collaborative team.
Marital Settlement Agreement
The spouses can draft a marital settlement agreement if they agree on all issues. This document outlines the divorce terms, including property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. The court generally accepts the agreement as long as it is fair and reasonable.
Divorce and Taxes
Divorce can have significant tax implications. For instance, alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible for the payer or taxable for the recipient under federal law as of 2019. Child support payments are not tax-deductible. Property transfers between spouses as part of a divorce agreement are generally not subject to tax. However, there may be future tax implications when the property is sold. Consult with a tax professional or financial advisor to understand the tax implications of your divorce.
Divorce is not just a legal process but also an emotional journey. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, and relief. Counseling or support groups can provide emotional assistance during this challenging time. If children are involved, their emotional well-being should be a top priority. Communicate openly with them and reassure them that both parents will continue to love and support them.
Getting a divorce in Maryland involves several steps and legal considerations. Understanding the laws and processes to navigate this challenging time is crucial. Whether you opt for a traditional courtroom divorce, mediation, or collaborative divorce, always ensure your rights and interests are protected. Consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney who provides legal guidance and representation. Remember, while the process may be complex, it’s a step towards a new chapter in your life.
Hire the Best Maryland Divorce Lawyer
You should hire the best Maryland divorce lawyer that you can. Does our law firm have the best divorce lawyers in Maryland? Goodness no. We focus on serious personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. You want a lawyer who focuses on Maryland divorce law.